The actress discusses working with Jared Hess, her role as Mac on Veronica Mars and The Germs' movie What We Do Is Secret
Being a child actor is hard enough on a young person without them having to deal with being a child star. Then imagine, just as you're starting to make your bones in the acting world, you've been in movies like When a Man Loves a Woman and starred in 1999s TV version of Alice in Wonderland, you quit the business for five years.
This is exactly what Tina Majorino did, much to the confusion of many people around her. Yet, she proved to everyone that she knew what she was doing when she took on the role of Deb in the phenomenally successful Napoleon Dynamite. Since creating her iconic character she has gone on to be in the HBO series Big Love, as well as play Mac on the hugely popular Veronica Mars TV show.
She recently took time out to discuss her thoughts on the Napoleon Dynamite: Like, The Best Special Edition, Ever! DVD as well as the rest of her career.
As someone who had been in a bunch of movies and TV shows before you did Napoleon Dynamite, what made you want to do that film?
Tina Majorino: The main reason that I wanted to be a part of Napoleon Dynamite was because it was a comedy, and I hadn't really gotten an opportunity to do any humor in films before. I was always cast in very serious, dark, dramatic roles which was really great and challenging for me, but people wouldn't even see me in comedies because you do a role and you immediately get typecast by that role. It was nice because I had taken five years off from acting, and then Napoleon Dynamite was the first script that I read. I was really excited to think that I would be given an opportunity to be a part of an ensemble, comedic cast.
Did you have any idea that it would become the phenomenon that it became?
Tina Majorino: I don't even think that entered my mind. I never do films based on how well I think it's going to do. I always take roles that I think will be interesting and fun and have something to say. I just remember being on set and all of us just being like, "Man, we think this is so funny! Lets hope that the rest of the world thinks that it's funny, too." It's a shock to see how well it's done but definitely a good one. I can't even believe there's a special edition DVD of it now. It's really cool.
As an experienced actress, were you at all apprehensive about working with a director who was making his first feature film?
Tina Majorino: No, because from the first time that I met Jared he is so spot on with his direction. He knows exactly what he wants. He's really creative. He's really smart. I think, at least in my experience with directors, you can't really judge how good a director is going to be just based on how many films he's done, Because there are plenty of directors that aren't that great that have done a ton of films. I think it's an individual situation. You just have to kind of look at the person and base it on that. Jared's just really smart and just so funny. I think he has an amazing sense of humor. Like I said, because he does know exactly what he wants, that makes the rest of the process so much easier because there's no second guessing. He knows what he wants when he wants it.
He can describe it for you. He can communicate those things he wants to you, so there is no going back and forth on ideas or whatever. He knows what it's about. He's incredible. He's one of the best directors I've ever worked with.
That's saying something considering this was the first film he had made.
Tina Majorino: On top of the fact that because he was so direct in his directing, it set such an organized, relaxed, laid back tone on the set. I've never been on a more organized set. I think we got something like seven pages a day done. Which is unheard of for most sets. Especially in the time bracket that we were working in. We started at like six in the morning and we'd be done by five or six in the evening, again, which is pretty unheard of when you're making a film. Especially such a low budget film. It was super organized and just a blast. That speaks very highly of Jared.
How much has you're life changed since the world got to know the character of Deb?
Tina Majorino: It's been such a fun process for me because everyone was giving me a hard time when I quit acting, because they said, "If you ever decide to come back you're going to have such a hard time. It's going to be a pain in the ass. You're gonna struggle." Even if that was true, which it definitely wasn't after Napoleon Dynamite, I'd put in the work before and I can do it again. So, it's always kind of the attitude that I've had. I tell yeah, I was in the right place at the right time when Napoleon Dynamite came around. It was such a blessing because after that movie came out, everybody was just so open to seeing me again. They were really happy that I had come back.
I was worried that everyone was going to base their decisions on what they would see me on; on the films that I did when I was younger. When you take five years off and you come back as an eighteen year old... there's a big difference there. So, I was always worried that that was going to be a problem and that they would look at me as being some has-been, child actor or something. (Laughs). But, I've been so lucky that the reception of me coming back into the business has been really great. And it has everything to do with Napoleon and I'm really happy that the film did so well, because it means that not all films have to be based on really popular, all together characters.
That's another humongous reason that I wanted to be a part of this film, because there aren't a lot of films that are about the underdogs as far as high school goes. Most of it's about the cheerleaders and the football players. I think it's really great that Jared made the decision to make a film that was about the dorky kid in school, because I think a lot of the dorky kids in school grow up to be pretty successful in life. So it's cool that he took a chance on making a film that didn't have any sex in it. There was no cussing, no drugs none of that and it was so funny. It really gave me hope for films of the future that you can put good things out there. I was especially excited... Deb's very characterish. While I was dorky in high school and what not, there's the costumes and the side ponytail, which I didn't wear in high school, but little nuances like that that make her extra fun to play. I'm just super excited that everybody received the movie so well.
When you took that five years off did you quit? Were you planning on coming back? I'm just wondering what your mindset was.
Tina Majorino: I think at the time I was pretty much done with acting. It wasn't a permanent thing because I never say never. At that time I had lost the passion for it. I really wanted to be home with my family, my friends and get to know myself a little bit better because I'd been working since I was two. I really wanted to have that downtime so that I could go through normal, everyday things. I think it's important to have a life outside of your career, because there's so many people who don't and what happens when your acting career ends? I want to be able to know that I have other things going on. That I have a strong sense of self because there's so much rejection and hardship in this business. You better have some tough skin and know what you want to do, and know who you are because it's hard.
That was pretty much the basis of it. It wasn't like, "Oh, I'm never going to come back again." It was just at that time, "I just don't want to be doing this." I'm the type of person... I'm a perfectionist and I love to work hard but if I'm not into something it's really hard for me to put that effort in. I don't think it's fair to everyone else to be working with somebody who really doesn't want to be there. So, I think it was just a matter of take it day by day and see what happens.
Is your approach to a character like Deb different then your approach to someone like Mac on Veronica Mars?
Tina Majorino: I think it can vary from character to character. Specifically, with those two characters, there's a lot of my own personality and my own life experiences that I use to prepare for the roles. Even though Mac is pretty hip and cool, she's not one of the popular kids at school. So that kind of feeds into the same area that Deb was at. She definitely wasn't the popular kid in school. They're similar things to think about when I'm preparing for either of those roles. Most of the time it's just a matter of trying to be true to the character and make it something that people can relate to. You don't want to complicate it too much. It's just trying to bring that character to life and make it so when people watch you play that role, it sounds familiar to them. It's somebody that they know. Or, it's something that they feel about themselves. So that they connect with you which is really important.
What do you have coming up next and can you please talk about What We Do is Secret?
Tina Majorino: What's coming up next is Veronica Mars Season Three which I will be a part of. Then Big Love - Season Two which is a show on HBO that I'm a part of. I'm really, really excited about that. And then What We Do is Secret, I'm so excited about that film. I haven't even gotten to see any dailies of it, yet. I'm pretty excited to see some of the footage but it is based on the band The Germs. Mostly on Darby Crash who is played by Shane West and is amazing.
I play a girl named Michelle. Actually, I'm playing a real person. The producer, co-writer of the film is Michelle Ghaffari. She was Darby Crash's best friend. So that was really cool for me that I got to play a real person and get to know Michelle in real life. It was such a cool set to be on because all the original Germs, save for Darby, were there on set. They were just fantastic. It was really intense and fun and I have no idea when it's coming out, but I hope it's soon because I really want to see it. You'll be blown away by Shane he really... I'm hoping his scenes come out as great as they were when I was watching them live. He really embodied Darby as a person it was kinda scary. It was really cool.
I'll bet it was scary because Darby seemed to be a pretty scary person himself.
Tina Majorino: Oh yeah, I mean that was one of the coolest parts about being in the cast. Having all the original Germs there, getting to know them and hearing all the stories that they have, it's pretty crazy. It's hard to believe that people actually partied as hard as they did and... I don't think anyone has been much bigger trendsetters than them, as far as the punk scene goes. It was pretty incredible. Part of the reason that I took the role was it was something different. I'd never played anybody like Michelle and I really wanted to learn more about The Germs, stuff. I'd heard of them but I hadn't really learned as much as I would've liked. That was definitely cool getting to hear the stories about them firsthand. It was pretty crazy.
The Napoleon Dynamite: Like, The Best Special Edition, Ever! DVD is currently available through Fox Home Entertainment.